Salem Willows

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Salem Willows
Salem Willows Path.jpg
A path at the Salem Willows featuring Willow trees
Interactive map showing location of Salem Willows
TypeUrban park
LocationSalem, Massachusetts, United States
Coordinates42°32′6″N 70°52′10″W / 42.53500°N 70.86944°W / 42.53500; -70.86944Coordinates: 42°32′6″N 70°52′10″W / 42.53500°N 70.86944°W / 42.53500; -70.86944
Area35 acres (0.14 km2; 0.055 sq mi)
Owned bySalem, MA
Operated bySalem Park, Recreation & Community Services Department

Salem Willows is an oceanfront park in Salem, Massachusetts. It is named for the European white willow trees planted there in 1801 to form a shaded walk for patients convalescing at a nearby smallpox hospital. The area became a public park in 1858, and in the twentieth century became a summer destination for residents of Boston's North Shore, many of whom escaped the heat of the city on newly popular streetcars. On June 10, 1880 the park opened with many amusement park additions.[1] It covers over 35 acres and includes beaches, a pier, a yacht club, and a boardwalk with arcades and restaurants. There are many areas for recreational activities including social gatherings and picnicking. There are gazebos, a small stage area, and tennis and basketball courts. There is an amusement park called Kiddieland with a carousel that survives to this day with a few other rides that are for children only, as well as a miniature golf course. There are two small beaches located on the Willows which is a common place for tourists to go and see the surrounding cities and towns. The beaches are also a common place to watch the 4th of July fireworks since you can see three sets of fireworks; Salem, Beverly, and Marblehead. The Salem Trolley stops at the park.

Many establishments on Restaurant Row, the park's north side, served fresh seafood, while a carousel with carved flying horses was another special attraction. The park is near the Juniper Point neighborhood, most likely named for its juniper trees. Many of the houses there were originally occupied only during the summer, but they are now year round homes."[2]

Artist Maurice Prendergast drew inspiration from the scenic Salem Willows Park for his 1904 painting "Salem Willows".

Black Picnic Day[edit]

Salem Black Picnic Day, formerly called the “Colored People’s Picnic” (until 1968),[3] and Negro Election Day is a day celebrating the historical significance of "The First Black Voting System" [4] and the picnic celebrates the 280th anniversary in 2021. Salem was one of a few Massachusetts towns in which Black people voted to elect a Black Governor who would serve as a judge, mediator, and liaison for the Black community.[4] The first celebration of the Black election day happened in Lynn on the Saugus River in 1741 with 26 enslaved people gathering for a daylong celebration.[3]

The annual gathering has been happening at Salem Willows since 1885 and occurs on the third Saturday of July. In 2019 Senators Joan Lovely and Bruce Tarr sponsored a bill to establish the third Saturday in July as Black Picnic Day. Since World War II, the picnic has been held on a Saturday since that was the only time many African Americans who worked in factories had time to celebrate.[5] It was cancelled during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

The overarching theme of the day is to preserve and protect Black history. The celebration consists of a families barbecuing and eating together, a parade, vendors, free entertainment, speeches and awards, music, dancing, sporting contests, and voter registration. Attendance ranges from 2,500 to 5,000 people.[6] Popular food at the event include spare ribs, collard greens, and potato salad. One year the National Park Service supplied an Election Day Cake, made by Ziggy & Sons’ Donuts in Salem from an 18th-century recipe.[5]

In recent years there has been more interest in the history of this event. Some historic documents that mention the event include:

  • Benjamin Lynde (Salem attorney) diary from 1741, which states “Election; Negro’s hallowday here at Salem.”[5]
  • "Diary of William Bentley" (Salem minister) from 1817[5]

Since 2015 the Salem United, Inc, led by Doreen Wade, has organized the event.[5] The Salem United Board came together, to maintain the historic importance of the Salem Willows Black Picnic.[7] Also in 2015 Governor Charlie Baker signed a decree recognizing the Black Picnic as a historical event.[5]

Events and Music[edit]

The Willows provides a conducive outdoor location for many annual and special events. Some of these special events include fireworks displays, parades, and music and theater programs.

Willows Casino and Charleshurst Ballroom[edit]

The Charleshurst Ballroom opened in the 1920s. It was the base of operations for owner Charlie Schribman, who operated many ballrooms throughout New England. Schribman handled bookings for Duke Ellington and other bands which led to Ellington playing at the Charleshurst Ballroom nine times during the summer of 1927.[8]

Salem Jazz and Soul Festival[edit]

Salem residents, Henley Douglas Jr. and Jonathan and Jennifer Reardon, started discussing a concert series in 2003. By 2006 they had a board of directors and a group of area musicians behind the idea. The first Salem Jazz and Soul Festival (SJSF) was held in on April 21, 2007. The year after it was held in August as it has since.[9]

Salem Jazz and Soul Festival 2012

The Robert F. Hayes Band Stand[edit]

Robert "Bob" Hayes was 92 when the band stand was renamed for him. From the plaque, "For his commitment to perpetuating free concerts for several generations of Salem residents. Since 1939, the only concert seasons he missed were during World War II while serving in the U.S. Navy. Assigned to the USS Essex, musician 2nd class "Bob" Hayes performed ceremonial music and entertained his shipmates daily while patrolling the South Pacific. He was also engaged in combat during damage control during several 'kamikaze' attacks. This bandstand is dedicated in his honor this day, June 25, 2013, by his family, fellow North Shore concert band musicians and the Salem Veterans Council."[10]

Horribles Parade[edit]

The Horribles Parade happens July 4th and is organized by residents from the Juniper Point neighborhood which adjoins Willow Park. This tradition has been happening since the late 1940s and also happens in other Massachusetts towns such as Needham, Danvers, Beverly, Peabody, and Gloucester. The theme of the parade is a mix of patriotism and parody.[11]

Food and Restaurants[edit]

Multiple restaurants have had their place at the Willows. The Chase Willow House opened in 1874 and was one of the most famous. It burned down quickly around midnight on July 15, 1952.[12] Other restaurants that existed in the past were Ebsen's, Downing's seafood restaurant, Swenbeck's, and “Blind Pat” Kenneally's double-jointed peanut stand.

Today there are fewer food options, but Hobbs' popcorn and ice cream stand is open seasonally and is known for their homemade ice cream and popcorn. Everett Hobbs and Wilbur Eaton sold popcorn at the Willows in the mid 1880s and bought a building to set up shop in 1897. Today the fourth generation of Hobbs' continue the tradition.

Salem Lowe and the Chop Suey sandwich[edit]

The Salem Lowe Co. restaurant can be dated back to at least 1912 and was originally located at 228 Essex Street in downtown Salem. It was originally a sit down restaurant serving Chinese and American food, which were separated on the menu.[13] Today it is a take out restaurant only and is located at the Salem Willows Park.


  1. ^ "Salem Willows Park Opens for Business Historical Marker". Retrieved 2020-07-05.
  2. ^ "Juniper Point - SalWiki". Retrieved 2020-07-06.
  3. ^ a b "Negro Election Day aka Black Picnic (2019-07-20)". National Black Doll Museum of History & Culture. Retrieved 2020-07-05.
  4. ^ a b Correspondent, Shelley A. Sackett /. "275 years of the Black Picnic at Salem Willows". The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, MA. Retrieved 2020-07-05.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Writer, Will Broaddus Staff. "An appetite for history: Salem United wants Black Picnic to connect with its roots". The Daily News of Newburyport. Retrieved 2020-07-05.
  6. ^ Salem United (2020). "Salem United Black Picnic Day: Community and Business Partner Engagement" (PDF). Retrieved July 5, 2020.
  7. ^ "Salem United | Black PIcnic". Salem United. Retrieved 2020-07-05.
  8. ^ "Duke Ellington, Regionally". Retrieved 2020-07-07.
  9. ^ "History of the Festival". Salem Jazz and Soul Festival. Retrieved 2020-07-05.
  10. ^ "Robert F. Hayes Bandstand | City of Salem MA". Retrieved 2020-07-05.
  11. ^ "Horribles Parade - SalWiki". Retrieved 2020-07-06.
  12. ^ "Salem Willows - SalWiki". Retrieved 2020-07-06.
  13. ^ "Salem Lowe 1912-2017 · Salem Menus 2017 · Salem Food". Retrieved 2020-07-05.

External links[edit]